Top 7 Causes Of Jaw Popping When Chewing

Jaw popping when chewing
Photo by engin akyurt/ Unsplash

Jaw popping when chewing, followed by a painful sensation, might or might not be a concern for you. In some cases, it is quite normal and only occurs on opening your mouth wide or yawning, but in other cases, this happens because of some medical condition, which is something you should worry about.

In most cases, the worst part is that people don’t know that they have a medical issue and ignore the symptom, inviting potentially big trouble in the future.

So, it is important to know what can be the reasons behind your jaw popping when chewing. This will help you to root out a potentially serious medical condition in the future.

Here are some of the causes of why your jaw pops when chewing, its indications, and the possible treatments.

What is Jaw Popping When Chewing?

Jaw popping when chewing is a painful sensation due to dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint.

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the skull’s temporal bones, allowing it to move back to front, side to side, and open your mouth wide. It is one of the most complex joints in the human body.

This joint’s range of motion is responsible for your ability to talk, chew food, and yawn. A soft cartilage disc inside of the joint socket absorbs large amounts of pressure, preventing it from damage, while the facial muscles attached to this jaw joint control all these movements.

When this jaw joint, acting as a hinge, does not work properly, jaw popping when chewing occurs either on one side or sometimes on both. This jaw popping when chewing is called either Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD) or Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD or TMJ).

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

Some of the common symptoms, including jaw popping when chewing, that mean you have TMD are:

  1. The jaw clicking is followed by an ache when you try to open it wide.
  2. In many cases, the jaw gets stuck after yawning or opening it too wide.
  3. Tenderness in the face and neck area.
  4. Swelling in your cheek and around your throat.
  5. Finding it difficult to chew the food properly.

These indications should alert you that something is wrong with the joint connecting your neck to the skull. It can happen on only one side or both, but in both cases, you should consult with a professional to prevent any potentially serious issues in the future.

What Are The Causes Of Jaw Popping When Chewing?

Some of the reasons you might experience jaw pain when you open your mouth wide or chew food are mentioned here. In these cases, you might have to consider consulting with a medical professional and getting medical treatment.

1. Arthritis

Arthritis, whether Rheumatoid or Osteoarthritis, causes damage to the cartilage of TMJ. And less cartilage means less shock absorption in jaw movement and more prospect of damage to the lower jaw.

Some other symptoms of OA and RA are:

  • Inflammation and swelling in jaw muscles
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Reduced range of jaw motion
  • Other jaw problems

Facial pain and excessive fatigue are also some of the common symptoms of jaw popping when chewing.

2. Injury or Dislocation of the Jaw

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By Alex Mit/Shutterstock

One of the common causes of experiencing jaw popping when chewing is trauma to the jaw and temporomandibular joints.

This temporomandibular dysfunction can be due to many reasons, including a vehicle accident, sports injury, falling at home, physical assault on the face, or an industrial accident.

This trauma to the TMJ causes unhinging of the jaw, and the jaw pops with a clicking sound.

In these cases, you should seek immediate medical attention and probably physical therapy. Consulting a dental professional is also wise if you experience jaw-popping.

It is referred to as TMJ in several cases.

3. Malocclusion of the Teeth

Malocclusion of the teeth means having crooked teeth or misaligned teeth. It is also known as underbite, overbite, crossbite, open bite, or crowded teeth.

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Photo by Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash

Some symptoms of this condition are:

  1. A problem in speaking.
  2. Biting your tongue and inner cheeks.
  3. Difficulties in chewing.
  4. Not breathing through your nose.
  5. A change in facial expression.

This condition also leads to jaw popping when chewing. A qualified dentist can help you better in this case, as malocclusion of the teeth can be cured with braces.

4. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious breathing-related sleeping disorder. Breathing repeatedly stops and starts in this case. Snoring loudly at night and fatigue is one of its common symptoms.

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Photo from Rachel Tayse/Flickr

Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea can cause jaw issues like TMJ and jaw popping when chewing.

Individuals suffering from it have a restricted flow of air through their lungs because of the narrowness in their throats and stop breathing involuntarily in their sleep. This restricted air flow through their throat leads to temporomandibular disorders and experience jaw popping.

5. Tumor

Image by Bernard Odoms, Flickr/Copyright 2021

A tumor inside of the mouth can also be the reason to jaw pop and jaw pain.

This tumor that stimulates TMJ disorders can be either in the lips, cheek, gum, tongue, or floor of the mouth.

The tumor that leads to oral cancer has overlapping symptoms with TMJ disorders, including jaw pain and other symptoms.

If you have TMJ, you will most certainly observe the following symptoms:

  1. Clenching teeth.
  2. Lock in jaw
  3. Neck muscle tension
  4. Pain behind the eyes.
  5. Clicking or popping sound on opening and closing your mouth.
  6. Sensitivity in your tooth to cold.
  7. Migraine or frequent headaches.
  8. Dizziness and nausea.
  9. A strange tingling in your fingers.

While the symptoms of oral cancer are:

  1. A dramatic change in voice while you are talking.
  2. Patches inside your mouth of color red or white.
  3. A sore lip that won’t heal.
  4. A sore mouth that won’t heal.
  5. A lump inside your mouth.
  6. Suddenly lose teeth.

Closely observe your symptoms and seek help from medical professionals or dentists if your symptoms match those of oral cancer.

6. Myofascial Pain Syndrome

This is a chronic pain disorder with sensitive points and trigger points, which on applied pressure, cause pain in completely unrelated parts. This syndrome happens after repeated injury in a particular place or overuse of muscles.

TMJ symptoms for people with this syndrome are:

  1. Sleep disturbances.
  2. Affected range of motion in that area.
  3. Pain is not getting better even in a week.
  4. Knots in muscles that are painful.

7. Infection

Image by Juan Reddish, Flickr/ Copyright 2021

Jaw clicking and pain in the jaw joint can also be due to infection. This infection can either be in the salivary gland, submandibular glands right under your jawbone, sublingual glands beneath your tongue, or parotid glands inside each cheek.

Symptoms of this are:

  1. Dry mouth.
  2. Bad breath.
  3. Pus is coming from the mouth.
  4. Swelling in neck and face area.
  5. Face pain.

Medical conditions like this should be treated right away. So, if you are experiencing any of the abovementioned issues, contact your dentist immediately.

Some other Reasons

Some other reasons why you must be experiencing jaw popping when chewing are:

  1. A habit of biting your lip or cheek.
  2. A habit of clenching your jaw.
  3. A pattern of chewing your gum too often.
  4. A pattern of biting your fingernails.
  5. A habit of thrusting your jaw out

According to research, women are more susceptible to TMJ than men because of anatomical differences.

Treatment Options for TMJ

Jaw popping when chewing is not an incurable condition, and you can get rid of this dysfunction with some precautions on your level. Some of the common home remedies for jaw clicking and pain are:

  1. Taking OTC medications, such as Ibuprofen, reduces inflammation in the area where the pain is.
  2. Applying an ice pack and warm compress several times a day for 10-15 minutes will help in relieving pain in the jaw area.
  3. Getting physical therapy.
  4. Undertaking lifestyle changes, like crunchy, hard, chewy foods and raw vegetables, eat softer foods and cooked vegetables that are easier to chew.
  5. Taking smaller bites to prevent you from opening your jaw too wide.
  6. Try relaxing your jaw.
  7. Avoid yelling or singing loudly, as these activities will need to open your jaw wide and simulate pain in your jawbone.

Some other treatments that your doctor might recommend are:

  1. Ultrasound.
  2. Radio wave therapy or laser wave therapy for better movement of the joint and slowly acquiring a wide range of motion.
  3. A few prescribed medications tone the pain down in the affected area while its cause is still being rooted out.
  4. Using a mouthguard or splint at night prevents you from grinding on your teeth during sleep.
  5. When all of the above options don’t work out and pain persists, the last resort is to get medical surgery done. They fix the unhinged joint.

So, these are some of the causes of jaw popping when chewing, including possible treatments to cure it. If you find any of the above medical conditions or habits, consider seeking medical support for your jaw pain and jaw popping.     

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